Monday 24 October 2016

Mum's the Word: Allow children to grow up seeing diversity as the norm

Bumping into an old friend while out with my kids was a golden opportunity

I want my children to grow up believing that all different kinds of love between people can be beautiful
I want my children to grow up believing that all different kinds of love between people can be beautiful

I bumped into a childhood friend recently in the company of my three children.

I hadn't seen him in a few months, and he was excited to report that he'd successfully finished his PhD and would be returning to New York in the autumn to live with his partner.

After congratulating him and wishing him the best of luck with the next stage of his new adventure, we said goodbye.

"Who was that?" my eldest asked.

"He's someone I was friends with as a teenager," I replied.

"Is he American?"

"No, he's from Dublin," I answered, before hesitating. "His boyfriend lives in New York and he's going back there to live with him."

"Don't you mean his girlfriend?" my son replied.

And here I was, having the first proper conversation about homosexuality with my kids.

A few weeks earlier, I had come home wearing a colourful 'Vote Yes' badge pinned to my coat. (A gay friend and Yes campaigner had offered it to me, and I'd happily taken it and worn it with pride).

The badge piqued my eldest's interest: "What are you voting 'Yes' for?" he frankly enquired.

Despite presenting me with a perfect opportunity to show some solidarity towards the people I want equality for, I was pathetic and cowardly.

Chickening out of a great opportunity, I avoided giving my eight-year-old a (ahem) straight answer.

Instead of talking about gay marriage, I vaguely replied that I wanted everyone to be allowed to marry the person that they love because, at the moment, the laws prevent some people from doing that.

Never once did I mention same-sex marriage.

My son was happy with my answer, but I was not. I simply felt ashamed.

Despite believing myself an ardent supporter of equality for gay people, here I was avoiding talking about them with my kids, like they somehow didn't exist.

My 'Vote Yes' badge had presented the perfect opportunity to put into action what I believed in, yet I failed miserably in my convictions.

Like many, I have several gay friends, but, for some reason, none are people I see very often.

I don't have a best pal who's gay, or a sibling or in-law. That means my kids haven't spent any time around gay couples.

In an effort to establish why my kids have had very little contact with gay people, I looked at my Facebook feed. Only 2pc of my 'friends' on Facebook are openly gay (although it's entirely possible that I have other gay friends who haven't been comfortable enough to come out).

The simplest way to normalise something for children is for them to grow up around it, but this isn't an exact science as we do not choose our families.

And so, it's up to parents to show their offspring that people are equal no matter how much they earn, who they love or how they look...

My own three are accepting of disability because my brother is in a wheelchair from a road accident.

By the same token, any children who grow up knowing same-sex couples simply accept them for who they are.

Meeting single gay people isn't enough, because it's unlikely you'll talk about a person's sexuality with a child.

They need to be around two guys or girls in a loving relationship to know that it's as normal as a boy and girl falling in love.

After my hypocrisy with the 'Yes Vote' question, I was so relieved to be offered a second bite of the cherry.

"Don't you mean his girlfriend?" my son had asked about the New York partner. "No, he has a boyfriend that he loves, just like I love your dad."


I then reminded him about my badge, and that I was voting 'Yes' so the law can be changed to allow boys to marry boys or girls to marry girls, if they want to. "Oh!" he exclaimed, "I didn't know that before."

I'm happy I bumped into my childhood pal and that our chance meeting gave me the opportunity to right a wrong and undo my cowardice.

Whatever way you're voting on May 22, I think being open about diversity in front of the children can only be a good thing.

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